Canada's Justin Kripps, sliding teammates raised bar at Olympics
Canadians earned gold, bronze in bobsleigh and pair of luge medals in South Korea
Canadian bobsled pilot Justin Kripps posted just one World Cup win in 2013-14, finished 10th overall and eighth the following season while continuing to drive a Latvian-built Eurotech sled.
Teammate Kaillie Humphries had used the sled since 2010 and was also at a competitive disadvantage after enduring a winless 2014-15 season. Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton soon realized a change was necessary and ponied up nearly $200,000 for two BTC sleds — "the fastest sled you can buy," Kripps said later.
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"I'll get to the bottom [of the course in training or races], maybe I've made a couple of mistakes and I'll be surprised that I still have a pretty quick time," he added.
Humphries went on to win three of her first five races in the 2015-16 season while Kripps and brakeman Alex Kopacz placed third and fourth twice in a four-race span.
"Equipment always plays a factor," Humphries said after she captured Olympic bronze in South Korea on Feb. 21 with rookie brakeman Phylicia George. "It's one-third of what it takes to win a race. The start, the driving, and the equipment all have to be there and all have to be top notch in order to win."
Helen Upperton, who in 2005-06 became the first Canadian woman to win a World Cup bobsleigh race, is convinced Humphries's choice of steel runners prevented her from three-peat gold or a silver medal.
"She outdrove the rest of the field," Upperton said. "I think it's an equipment deficit that left [Humphries and George] off the top of the podium."
Two days earlier, history repeated itself when Kripps and Kopacz matched the winning four-run time of three minutes 16.86 seconds to share a gold medal with Germany's Francesco Friedrich and Thorsten Margis, the second such win in Canada's bobsleigh history. Pierre Lueders, who finished fifth with Kripps in the four-man event at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, shared gold with Italy in 1998.
Few understood Kripps raced with a heavy heart in Pyeongchang following the death of his 94-year-old grandmother a few days before the start of competition. The late Marie Harrison had even made a prediction before Kripps travelled to South Korea.
"She picked me to win gold in the two-man, so she was still pretty sharp in her final days," said Kripps, who got his start in bobsleigh in 2007 as a brakeman before debuting as a pilot in 2012. "I was really happy we could get it done in her honour."
Kripps's feat was a welcomed sight for Bobsleigh Canada Skeleton after it watched all six men's sleds fail to podium four years ago at the Sochi Olympics in Russia. It also capped a memorable season for the 31-year-old of Summerland, B.C., who won a gold, three silver and bronze in the World Cup circuit's eight races to claim the season's overall title.
Two other Canadian sleds cracked the top 10 in the two-man event. Jesse Lumsden and pilot Nick Poloniato were seventh while Chris Spring, who placed third in the overall World Cup standings, came 10th with four-time Olympian Lascelles Brown.
Canada's four-man sled piloted by Kripps finished sixth in the final. Kripps and his team of Jesse Lumsden, Oluseyi Smith and Kopacz began the fourth and final heat tied for fourth and were also in fourth after the first two heats.
Kripps and company were trying to win only the second Olympic medal for Canada in four-man following the bronze a sled piloted by Lyndon Rush won at the 2010 Games.
Sleds piloted by Poloniato and Spring placed 12th and 16th.
Meanwhile, it was a bittersweet Olympics for Humphries, who was attempting to become the first bobsledder — male or female — to capture Winter Games gold three times in the same event. She switched the runners on her sled ahead of runs three and four, a change that boosted Humphries's speed after she and George sat fifth following the opening two runs.
Largest-ever contingent of sliders
Fresh off a fourth overall World Cup season title in five years, Humphries became the most decorated pilot in Canadian bobsleigh history with two Olympic gold medals and one bronze, surpassing Lueders.
Canada sent its largest-ever contingent of sliders to the Olympics, securing three sleds each in the men's two- and four-man events and the women's two-man event, plus six skeleton berths (three women, three men).
A group of lugers travelled to Pyeongchang seeking Canada's first Olympic medal in the sport 54 years after it was added to the Games.
Gough grabs 2 medals
Four days into the competition, Calgary's Alex Gough won bronze in women's singles in a combined four-run time of three minutes 5.64 seconds at the Olympic Sliding Centre. Fellow Canadian Kim McRae placed fifth at her second Olympics while Brooke Apshkrum was 13th.
Gough, 30, was fourth in the overall World Cup standings this season and has won 25 medals over the course of her career.
The two-time world bronze medallist was also part of Canada's relay team with Sam Edney and doubles duo Tristan Walker and Justin Snith that won silver in a combined two minutes 24.872 seconds.
It was a day of redemption for the foursome after missing out on bronze by a 10th of a second four years ago in Sochi. Two months ago, the Canadians suddenly were bumped to bronze when the International Olympic Committee retroactively suspended Albert Demchenko and Tatiana Ivanova for doping. But the Russians won an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, dropping Canada back to fourth spot.
Walker and Snith had earlier finished fifth in doubles in a time of one minute 32.369 seconds, more than one second off the winning time of 1:31.697 by Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt of Germany.
Edney sets Canadian mark
In men's singles, Edney capped his fourth and final Olympics with the best-ever luge result by a Canadian at a Winter Games. The 33-year-old Calgary native finished sixth in a cumulative time of 3:11.021 in men's singles after becoming the first Canadian male to win a World Cup medal (gold) in 2014.
Fellow Canadians Reid Watts and Mitchel Malyk placed 12th and 16th, respectively.
Elsewhere, Calgary's Elisabeth Vathje was among six first-time Canadian Olympians in skeleton, leading the way with a ninth-place finish, after the 23-year-old earned her first Crystal Globe with a third-place finish in the overall World Cup standings.
Jane Channell of North Vancouver, B.C. and Ottawa's Mirela Rahneva finished inside the top 15, placing 10th and 12th, respectively.
In men's skeleton, Kevin Boyer, of Sherwood Park, Alta., was the only Canadian to move on to the 20-man final, placing 17th with a combined time of three minutes 35.40 seconds.
The other two Canadian sliders — Dave Greszczyszyn and Barrett Martineau — did not advance after their combined three-run times left them in 21st and 25th, respectively.